Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology

Respiratory Physiology

Further Information

Contact a supervisor for detailed information on student research projects

 Dr Peter McFawn
Dr Peter McFawn

Dr Peter Noble 
Dr Peter Noble

The School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology offers a diverse range of student research topics.

The respiratory group in the School has had a long-standing interest in the control and function of conducting bronchi. The trachea, bronchi and other airways conduct air into and out of the lung. During an asthma attack contraction of airway smooth muscle (ASM) narrows the conducting bronchi and obstructs airflow. Airway obstruction also occurs in several other respiratory disease including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The focus of our research has been in understanding the detailed mechanisms involved in the control of airway diameter and airway obstruction.

Airway wall isotropy: is a push the same as a pull?

Project Outline

Airway narrowing, bronchoconstriction, is a key feature of several respiratory diseases including asthma. Our developing understanding of bronchoconstriction now suggest that narrowing is dependent on the interactions of airways smooth muscle contraction with the loads placed on the airway and the modulating actions of breathing movements such as deep breaths. Current models of airway function assume that the airway is isotropic and behaves the same way to forces pulling on the outside as to a pressure in the lumen pushing from the inside. This project aims to directly test that assumption using Anatomical Optical Coherence Tomography (aOCT) in airways isolated from pig lungs. These experiment use state of the art imaging techniques being developed at UWA’s school of electronic and electrical engineering to map the inside of individual bronchi with LASER probes. The question is how does the lumen move in response to an inflation by positive pressure in the lumen compared to negative pressure on the serosal surface and what change does that produce during airway contraction and in simulated breathing movements. This project uses isolated lung tissue from pigs.

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and Postdoctoral students

Supervisor

Assoc Lecturer Peter McFawn and Asst/Prof Peter Noble

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major, from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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Respiratory pattern in airway disease

Project Outline

Over the last decade a surprising finding in respiratory research is that breathing protects against airway obstruction in healthy subjects but not in subjects with asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). In a healthy person taking a deep breath greatly reduces bronchoconstriction and relaxes airway smooth muscle. Few studies have examined  the pattern of breathing and how this differs between healthy subjects and those with respiratory disease. This project aims to measure the frequency and pattern of spontaneous deep breaths (i.e. sighs) in healthy subjects and patients with respiratory disease such as asthma. A collaborative project involving the School and Respiratory Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre that will use respiratory monitors to measure normal breathing pattern in human volunteers.

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and Postdoctoral students

Supervisor

Assoc Lecturer Peter McFawn and Asst/Prof Peter Noble

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major, from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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Force Adaptation

Project Outline

Over the last decade work with isolated airway smooth muscle (ASM) has shown that ASM has a plastic length- tension curve, that is given time the muscle will adapt to make its current length the optimum operating length. Two recent reports in the literature suggest a similar phenomenon can happen to muscle force production, where ASM is left partially contracted for some time the maximum force that can be generated is increased. This project will attempt to prove the phenomena of force adaptation and test whether continuous partial contraction can cause an asthma-like phenotype. This project will use bronchial segments from large animal species (sheep and pigs) and also involve translational experiments on human airway tissue.

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and Postdoctoral students

Supervisors

Assoc Lecturer Peter McFawn and Asst/Prof Peter Noble

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major, from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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Airway structure in disease

Project Outline

In airway diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary, disease remodelling of the airway wall occurs. That is, the wall becomes thicker with more muscle and more connective tissue. But does the greater thickness of muscle mean more contractile filaments in the muscle or is it mostly “empty space”? The aim of this project is to use immunohistochemistry to assess the actin and myosin in the smooth muscle cells. Airway and lung tissue samples from asthmatic, COPD and control patients will be used to determine if the increased muscle mass also means more contractile filaments. This project would run as a collaboration involving the School and Respiratory Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and Postdoctoral students

Supervisors

Assoc Lecturer Peter McFawn and Asst/Prof Peter Noble

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major, from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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Novel airway explants

Project Outline

Cell culture is an extremely useful technique but limited for studying integrated organ function like a bronchus. The tissue explant technique is an adaptation of tissue culture to larger structures like an intact blood vessel or airway tube. Explanting allows prolonged incubation of an isolated tissue under highly controlled conditions that is not possible in vivo or in classical organ bath methods. Our question is how do changes in the mechanical and chemical environment of the lung produce airway wall structural changes? Can incubation of tissues with cytokines present in asthma make an airway “asthmatic” or does prolonged exposure to high intraluminal pressure change airway contractility? This project would involve developing a method to explant bronchi from large animal species (pigs and sheep) under conditions were the luminal pressure can be controlled.

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and Postdoctoral students

Supervisors

Assoc Lecturer Peter McFawn and Asst/Prof Peter Noble

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major, from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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Variable breathing and airway function

Project Outline

Our laboratory has previously shown that simulated breathing movements in isolated bronchial tubes prevents airway collapse. It is theorised that a loss of the beneficial effects of breathing is a precursor to airway obstruction in asthma. However, while our prior studies have modeled breathing as a fixed sinusoidal rhythm, breathing is irregular in nature comprising both small and large breaths at a variable rate. There is now increasing evidence to suggest that this natural irregularity of breathing promotes normal airway function but this has yet to be tested. The present project will for the first time determine how a variable breathing rhythm impacts airway function and how this may be disrupted in disease leading to poor airway function. Techniques will include a newly developed and custom-designed organ bath system that provides a comprehensive assessment of mechanical airway wall properties and simulation of different human breathing rhythms.

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and Postdoctoral students

Supervisors

Assoc Lecturer Peter McFawn and Asst/Prof Peter Noble

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major, from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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A contemporary mouse model of lung disease

Project Outline

A new paradigm in respiratory disease is that structural and physiological abnormalities may arise independent of inflammatory pathways. We have established a mouse model that overexpresses transforming growth factor alpha (TGFalpha), producing lung remodeling particularly when the Early growth response 1 (Egr-1) gene is ‘knocked out’. Importantly, these changes are mediated in the absence of inflammation. We are interested in the functional and structural consequences of TGFalpha induced respiratory disease including airway remodeling and smooth muscle contractility, lung stiffening and diaphragmatic function. The data generated is relevant to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis and other respiratory disorders. While the project makes use of a sophisticated transgenic and knock out mouse model, our focus is on lung physiology and is suitable for any student interested in airway-structure function relationships. Techniques include, in vivo assessment in mechanically ventilated and anaesthetised mice, organ bath experiments on isolated mouse trachea, bronchi or diaphragm muscle, and stereological assessment of tissue (“stereology” – the unbiased assessment of structure).

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and Postdoctoral students

Supervisors

Assoc Lecturer Peter McFawn, Asst/Prof Peter Noble, Clin/Prof Alan James and Assoc/Prof Gavin Pinniger

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major, from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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